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By 
Lucas Mix
 on January 15, 2024

Praying for Heaven on Earth

What does it mean to pray God’s will on earth as in heaven? Space is not Heaven, says this astrobiologist, but it can help orient us in the right direction.

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Couple sitting perched on hill looking and pointing at picturesque night sky full of stars

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

Every day I pray,‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ I ask the God who orders the cosmos—setting stars and planets in motion with clockwork precision—to attend to my daily life—messy as it is. I ask the governor of space and time to focus on one pale blue dot and on the fragile surface of that sphere, to attend to me.

I said this prayer as a child, and it has a childhood meaning. God rules a kingdom over my head, both physically and metaphorically. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139: 6) I prayed for God to come down from the sky to help me in my hour of need. My country and my world felt broken. And so, I prayed for them as well. God, come and fix this mess. Lord, have mercy.

I said the same prayer this morning, but it meant something different. Astronomy and Scripture changed my view of heaven and earth. And they changed my view of God. The faith remains, the hope remains, and the love remains; I still ask God to intervene. But my understanding has shifted. The Kingdom of God is not, as I thought, physically overhead. When I look up, I see sky, and beyond sky space, and beyond space more space. The universe extends so far, I cannot imagine its boundaries. The scientists and telescopes tell me so. And, upon reflection, so does the psalmist. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.” It is so far above me metaphorically that it isn’t even visible physically.

The Kingdom of God is radically different from our own kingdoms. I would have no hope for salvation if this were not the case. Things here are severely messed up and so God has to offer something radically different. The kingdom of God is mysteriously and miraculously near.

Astronomy and Scripture changed my view of heaven and earth. And they changed my view of God.

My hope is not a castle in the sky, with cloud foundations. It rests on relationships, conversations, and daily interactions. It is built on the teachings of my parents, the faith of my friends, and the wisdom of my church. It was passed on through the centuries. It arises from daily encounters with scripture and worship. In other words, it relies on those same messy, embodied connections that make up my world. In Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17: 20-21)

Not Above, But Within and Among

Christians have known this since the time of Christ that salvation is not found among the clouds or even among the stars; it is found in community and in the space between us. Copernicus and Galileo had something important to say. Heaven and earth follow the same rules. But we must be ever so careful how we hear their message. Too often we assume that other planets and space itself must be like the Earth. We explore space because it is not. We go and see because we do not know what we will find. Too often we assume that heaven must be like earth and so miss the opportunity to be better than we are. Our prayer must never be ‘in heaven as on earth.’

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (I Cor 13: 11) As an adult, I understand that the mess is not local. I stumble and fall. The people around me stumble and fall. And that bumbling extends across humanity and our relationship with the natural world. These days when I pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” I have a whole planet in mind.

I do not wait for God to reach down from above (or in from beyond). I ask for God’s Spirit to move within me, teaching me to pray as I ought and live as I ought. (Romans 8: 26) I seek not to escape the earth but, with the Earth, to find harmony with heaven. Scripture tells us that we are not a foreign country, but a rebel province. Our hope lies in God’s actions. God reintegrates humans in creation and makes creation at-one with God.

We must not confuse the faith of childhood with the faith of our ancestors. They too were children once. And they too passed on their faith to their children. Otherwise, we would not be here. The kingdom of God is not above, but among…and within.

Space shuttle launching into space in front of picturesque backdrop of moon and sunlit sky

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

Too often we assume that other planets and space itself must be like the Earth. We explore space because it is not. We go and see because we do not know what we will find. Likewise, too often we assume that heaven must be like earth and so miss the opportunity to be better than we are. Our prayer must never be ‘in heaven as on earth.’

Lucas Mix

Heaven not Space, but Harmony

God asks me to have the humility of a child (Matthew 18: 3; Mark 10: 15). He invites me to look up at the heavens and around me at the earth with wonder and openness. He calls me to look for the kingdom at all times and in all places, trusting not in my own wisdom, but in God’s grace. He asks me to have the faith of a child, but not that faith alone. He asks me to think and reason as an adult as well.

And so, I keep my child-like prayer. I ask a transcendent God to reach into my immanent mess and make something holy out of it. But I also pray as an adult. I ask for creation to be conformed to God’s will. I ask him to make us one body through that same Spirit that was in Christ.

Heaven is not space; it is harmony. It is a harmony so radically different from the life we know that God had to become human to show us and tell us about it. Heaven is beyond my understanding, but not beyond my grasp. The earth is more than planet Earth. It is the entire range of humanity, perhaps the entire universe. The earth is more than planet Earth, but it cannot be less. The planet is broken and in need of God’s harmony. I cannot ask for God to intervene without giving myself to the task, joining in the movement of the spirit.

Heaven is not space; it is harmony. It is a harmony so radically different from the life we know that God had to become human to show us and tell us about it. Heaven is beyond my understanding, but not beyond my grasp.

I ask God to forgive me as I have forgiven others, knowing these are not two acts but one. In the same way, I ask God to nurture me as I nurture the earth. I ask that heavenly harmony would break in through me, as it breaks in everywhere else. I cannot be saved alone, nor would I wish to be. My treasure is in my relationships.

And so I pray, “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

About the author

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Lucas Mix

Lucas Mix studies life at the intersection of biology, theology, and philosophy. He is a priest in The Episcopal Church with a PhD in evolutionary biology from Harvard and a black belt in Hapkido from Enso Center. He currently serves as Project Coordinator for “Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science,” connecting church leaders with cutting edge science in the UK and around the world. You can find out more on his blog.

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